Aparigraha is translated by Michael Stone as nonacquisitiveness, and by others as non-grasping, non-greediness. It is one of the yama, or restraints, outlined in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The yama are actions best avoided and are principles intended to guide relationships with all beings (including ourselves).
At its simplest level, aparigraha is a practice that helps us counter Western overconsumption, of knowledge, time, things and experiences, for example. At this level, we can learn about enoughness. Gratitude comes into play here as a way of deeply seeing and appreciating, and being satisfied by, what we already have, leading to a sense of abundance without the impulse to pile up more and more “stuff.”
For me, this comes up as “Am I enough?” Do I have enough to offer as a teacher and a psychotherapist? It’s not even that I think this on an explicit level. More often it comes up as a grasping when I see a new class or training. A part of me leaps up and says, “Oh! I should take this class.” It comes with a feel of, “I can’t say no to this. I might be missing something!” I can feel the impulse in my hands and fingers to curl and grab as I write this, and the sense of a gap or a “something not there” when I say no to an offer. (And trust me there are about five new courses, trainings, free lectures and new book announcements that come through my inbox every say. Yikes!)
Taking it deeper, in his book Yoga for a World Out of Balance, Michael Stone writes that the practice of aparigraha “is the deep letting go when we decide to meet life as it is.” This is the renunciation that is at the heart of Yoga (and Buddhist) practice: allowing our thoughts, interpretations, evaluations and judgments to be beside us as we experience, rather than between us and experience. It is a profound dis-identification with thinking in favour of a commitment to experiencing.
This kind of renunciation is distinct from what we might think about it, as giving up creature comforts, in fact everything material, and living an austere life of voluntary poverty and homelessness. The idea is to give up clinging to, or identification with, the material world (including our bodies). I have seen how I can used this as a nice way to still (over-) consume and allow myself to think well of myself by saying, “Yes, but I don’t tie my self-esteem to these things.” “Yes, but I would be fine without them.”
It’s walking a razor’s edge to live in the material world as a householder yogini practicing renunciation, and not fall prey to this sneaky way out of my spiritual and ethical commitments. I need ongoing practice and accountability, and a ton of self-loving action, in order to be fierce about seeing what’s really going on and choosing again and again to let go.
“The goal of yoga is vidya, seeing things as they are.” -Michael Stone
I have noticed that, although each yama is framed in the negative, through the practice of it, we can learn a “positive” lesson. For example, through letting go, I am learning about impermanence, no-self, mortality and interdependence. It helps me sees these principles in action in my life.
This is a pivotal point: all yamas are practices, not philosophies. They are intended to be experienced, to be brought to life as questions. In Bringing Yoga Philosophy to Life, we inquire into a series of five questions on each yama. This Sunday (February 8, 2015) at 10 am, we begin engaging with the practice of aparigraha by asking ourselves the first question: “How am I now, in this moment, about bringing aparigraha to my life?” We spend time with this inquiry in movement, in stillness and silence, speaking and listening in pairs and then in the large group. We experience how it applies in the moment, and how we might like to carry that forward out of the yoga studio and into our daily lives.
Maybe you might like to take a moment now to hold this question, “How am I now about aparigraha?”
You might like to notice what’s happening in your body…
with your breath and heartbeat…
in your mind…
what kind of emotions come…
as you hold this question in your mind.
Perhaps you might like to share, in the comments below, what you noticed.
Please also consider joining us at the Bodhi Tree Yoga Centre Sunday mornings as we explore bringing yama and niyama to life, experientially and in community!